Things That Matter

This Tejana Environmental Activist Says That The Oil and Gas Industry Is Continuing the Legacy of Colonization

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Virginia Palacios lives in Laredo, Texas — a city that her distant ancestors founded generations ago. This makes her a ninth-generation Tejana. But that’s not all she is. Palacios is also a fierce environmentalist who believes that the oil and gas industry is continuing the legacy of colonization in her beloved home state of Texas.

Virginia Palacios is so passionate about protecting the land she grew up on from further poisoning by the oil and gas industry, that she has made it her life’s mission to hold these powerful industries accountable.

As the Executive Director of Commission Shift, Virginia Palacios works at building public support to hold the Railroad Commission of Texas accountable for the impact it has on the community. Despite its misleading name, the Railroad Commission of Texas has nothing to do with railroads. In fact, the Railroad Commission of Texas actually oversees oil and gas development and coal and uranium mining in the Lone Star state.

But Palacios believes that the commission has failed in its duty to regulate the oil and gas industries. “What we see is that our lands are being spoiled, and people’s groundwater is being contaminated, our air is being polluted, and people are being negatively impacted,” Palacios said in an interview with Now This News. “And we don’t see the Railroad Commission doing what they said they would do to protect the public.”

In fact, a recent report by Commission Shift revealed that the Texas Railroad Commissioners have a financial stake in the gas and oil industries that they are supposed to be regulating.

Commission Shift reported that the three commissioners “profit from the industry that they oversee” through things like campaign donations. The report says that the commissioners make decisions that are in their “private interests.” And in light of the catastrophic power grid failure in February, the commission is under much more scrutiny than it was before.

Despite her hometown of Laredo being an oil and gas hub with several oil booms and busts over the years, the high-poverty city is not better off economically now than it was before. According to Palacios, the Laredo’s poverty rate hovers between 30-40%. “It’s a high poverty region and there’s this sense that we have to cling to whatever industry’s available,” she told Now This.

Virginia Palacios sees a distinct parallel between the actions of the oil and gas industry and Spanish colonization.

As she sees it, both institutions demonstrate a lack of respect for both the land and its inhabitants. “What we see is that our lands are being spoiled, and people’s groundwater is being contaminated, and our air is being polluted and people are being negatively impacted,” she told Now This.

And both institutions are harming local communities by disrupting people’s relationship to nature. “A lot of us down here who are Latinos or Tejanos don’t identify ourselves by our relationship to Spain, but by our relationship to our indigenous culture,” she explained. “And one of the hard things about colonization and the way that our state is being run right now, is that our history, our indigenous history, has been erased.”

By doing the work to protect her ancestral land from big oil, Virginia Palacios is honoring her indigenous ancestors who were so closely connected to the land she now lives on.

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